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Sweet birch

Yellow fall color of sweet birch.

Sweet birch is an attractive tree for lawns and naturalized areas, with shiny, red-brown bark and yellow foliage. Native to the eastern United States, the tree also attracts beautiful butterflies to the landscape, serving as a caterpillar/larval host. This species is resistant to bronze birch borer (BBB).

Botanical name:

Betula lenta

All common names:

sweet birch, black birch, cherry birch

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Shade tree,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Large tree (more than 40 feet)

Mature Height:

40-50 feet

Mature Width:

35-45 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Alkaline soil,
  • Clay soil,
  • Road salt

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Tolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Intolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • May be difficult to find in nurseries

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fall color,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • early fall,
  • mid fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Inconspicuous

Shape or Form:

  • Oval,
  • Pyramidal

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

Transplants Well:

  • No


  • Butterflies,
  • Game birds,
  • Insect pollinators,
  • Small mammals,
  • Songbirds

More Information:

Sweet birch (Betula lenta)
Sweet birch (Betula lenta)

Tree & Plant Care

Sweet birch occurs in moist, well-drained woodland slopes. Best grown in full sun.
Spring transplant only.
Avoid pruning in spring as birches tend to 'bleed' (lose large quantities of sap).

Disease, pests and problems

Cankers, aphids, leaf miners.
Moderately susceptible to bronze birch borer.
Sensitive to soil compaction, air pollution.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Tolerant of black walnut toxicity

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the eastern United States; often found in rocky sites.

Bark color and texture

Young trees have a  smooth, shiny, red-brown with rows of white lenticels.
Mature bark brown-black and scaly.
Crushed stems smell like wintergreen.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves;  2 to 6 inches long;  broadly ovate ; doubly toothed margins.
Medium green in summer turning golden yellow in fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

2 to 3 inch male catkins are at tips of branches and hang down when opening.
Female flowers are smaller and upright along same stem.  Not ornamentally important.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Fruit is an erect catkin with many tiny winged seeds. They ripen in fall.


Location of Betula lenta (Sweet birch) at the Arboretum